Water Privatization

In this lesson, you will read about a case of water privatization that took place in Bolivia in 1999. Should water always remain a public utility? We will talk about this question.

Pre-Reading Questions

  1. Look at the world map and locate Cochabamba, Bolivia. Have you ever heard of this city?
  2. Have you heard of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund? Do you know what these organizations do?
  3. Is the water supply in your community publicly owned?
  4. Do you know how much your monthly water bill is?
  5. How can citizens protest against government action in non-violent ways?
  6. What is the meaning of globalization?

Vocabulary Preview

  • take over: take control
  • municipal:  relating to a city or town
  • debt load: amount of money owing
  • contract: legal agreement
  • residents:  people living in a particular place
  • strike: stopping work as a means of protest
  • protest: demonstrate to show disagreement
  • riot: noisy, uncontrolled, behavior of a group
  • arrest: take by the police and charge with a crime
  • media: methods of communication; T.V., radio, press
  • live up to: do what is expected
  • back down: give up

Practice these new vocabulary words here: Water Privatization

Water Privatization

  1. In recent years, private companies have taken over municipal water supplies in a number of poor countries. The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund are accused of forcing countries with large debt loads to allow this in exchange for loans.
  2. In late 1999, a company called Aquas del Tunari, owned by Bechtel, an American multinational corporation, was given a 40-year contract to increase the water supplies and services of Cochabamba, Bolivia, a city of 600,000.
  3. Shortly after taking over in January 2000, the company raised water rates substantially. Many people had to choose between feeding their family and paying their water bill. To protest the increase, residents took part in a four-day general strike, which shut down the city. La Coordinador, an organization of community activists and labor leaders, led the protest. The strike ended when the government agreed to cancel the rate increases.
  4. By mid-February, the government had not lived up to the agreement. A peaceful protest march was organized, but riot police used tear gas to stop the marchers, many of whom were injured. The people did not give up though. In March, activists demanded that the government cancel the privatization contract and return the water system to public ownership. They also released the Cochabamba Declaration, which called for the protection of the water rights of people around the world.
  5. When the government once again refused their demands, residents shut down the city on April 4. Other Bolivians came to support them. The government arrested the leaders of the protest and stopped the media from reporting on it. Police attacked and injured many protesters and, on April 8, killed a young protester. On April 10, however, the government backed down and agreed to all of the protesters’ demands.
  6. The people of Cochabamba had won. They said no to the economics of globalization and gave hope to many others around the world.

Post Reading Questions

  1. What do you think of the World Bank’s decision to force poor countries to privatize their water supplies in exchange for loans?
  2. Why do you think the residents of Cochabamba were able to make the government back down?
  3. Do you think that general strikes are effective ways to get governments to respond to citizens’ complaints?
  4. Why do peaceful demonstrations often turn into rioting?
  5. What means can police use to stop rioting without injuring demonstrators?

Additional Resources